OPINION

Boycott Indian Cricket? It's About Time

April 02, 2006
Pratyush Khaitan

Indian Cricket has the richest sporting body in the cricket world in Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). It is also competing with the richest football clubs in monetary terms. However, the Indian cricket follower is hardly reaping any benefits.

In sharp contrast, the follower finds himself/herself in a miserable situation. The latest case was the beating a few cricket fans received from the police. Rediff reports,

Spectators had a harrowing time winding their way through a sea of baton-wielding security personnel, who swung left, right and center, causing grievous injuries to at least a dozen youngsters. A badly-bruised boy, shirt soaked in blood, was refused help by a patrolling police van even as people begged to rush him to a nearby hospital.
Harsha Bhogle pointed out a few years ago in an article that the real share holders of Indian Cricket are the Indian fans themselves. Fans means demand creation. Demand creation means possibility for corporates to sell their products. This in turn brings in money to cricket in general and to Indian Cricket as well.

However, the same person who is responsible for bringing in so much money into the game is treated like a foster child. Every step, every aspect sees the Indian Cricket fan marginalized. When he wants to go to the stadium to see a match, he has to stand in the line for hours before he can get the precious tickets. This if the black market hasn't already eaten up his ticket already.

Why can't a large portion of the tickets be sold online? If that doesn't seem democratic enough or even (scoff) too modern, why not sell the tickets in at least 200 outlets in the city where the match is being held? The Sunfeast Open at Calcutta, India's first WTA even saw advertisements and posters promoting the event and specifically noting at least 20 outlets where tickets for the event were being sold. I could buy the ticket while shopping or eating a sandwich at an outlet of one of the tournament sponsors for instance.

Parking your car is the next hassle which has to be endured. If I don't have clout and do not manage to get the special sticker for my car, I have to park my car a long distance from the stadium. Then begins the long distance walk towards the stadium. Is this BCCI's secret plan to promote other sports? For I do not see them supporting other sports in any way. They do not even support the women's cricket team.

Money isn't the goal of sport. Money should mean aid for sport more than any thing. Heck the BCCI doesn't even pay proper attention to domestic cricket. So to expect them to support other sports is getting a wee bit carried away.

Right. Coming back to cricket. To go inside the stadium, the cricket fan has to leave the newspapers out of the stadium. So he cannot protect his butt from the rough cement seats. The fan cannot carry any food. Who cares about food when the fan cannot even carry water for a day in the stadium which pans 7 hours of live action? Of course, this figure excludes 4-5 hours extra the fan has to keep in hand.

Firstly, for finding a car parking space. Secondly, for the marathon walk. Then to go at least two hours early into the stadium to avoid the poor crowd management setup in the rush hour when most people are getting into the stadium. Of course, you have to cope with the moody police cop who will give you any seat except the seat you were assigned by the ticket you hold. Then there isn't enough space to sit. You get to know how sardines feel. Or better, how the bhaji in pav feels just before you chomp it in your mouth while you watch your heroes play on the field. Most cricket fans are quite insane in India. So they don't mind doing all of this and going through all the hardship.

Some others try to watch the game on television, where there is an advertisement after ever over. Which means an advertisement after every 4-5 minutes.

People try to legitimize this by saying that money is good for the game. So the more, the better. Actually I am all for the influx of money into the game. But why should I not get at least 12 minutes of coverage without ads? I want insights into the game between over breaks. An ad every 4 minutes disturbs the flow of the game for the viewer. It feels as if I am watching a bit of cricket between ads when it should feel the opposite. An advertisement every third over is acceptable. Any more than that isn't.

After years of cricket watching, the fans must be getting used to the ads. So the BCCI announces that a logo of the BCCI will accompany each game India plays. NBA style! The BCCI wouldn't stop there. The commentators will now be hired by the BCCI. So if the commentators don't speak poorly about their bosses, do not blame them.

Furthermore, the commentary standards have been poor. Without naming specific people, I really feel sad when the commentary standards are better in matches played in most other nations if not all other nations compared to matches played in India.

So why does the Indian fan - the real reason why the BCCI earns so much money, the real share holder of cricket in India and the person who should be enjoying benefits rather than being made a fool of at every step - find himself in such a sorry situation?

For the South African cricket fan, cricket can mean a nice day picnic where he can go in with his wife, take his children free (and delight them with free toys) and lie on the 'hill' and catch cricket. For the English cricket fan, cricket can mean drinking beer and singing crazily while backing his team. For the New Zealand cricket fan, cricket can mean listening to music and spending quality time with the girlfriend at the stadium.

Such pleasures are unknown to the Indian Cricket fan (this is unrelated to most of them being single because their true love is cricket). The question blares and begs to be answered.

Why?

Economics has a way to explain most things. Indian cricket apparently has inelastic demand. This means that no matter how poorly the fans are treated, the demand for cricket will remain. If some people do get bugged, there are always new fans being created. When inelastic demand exists, someone will take advantage of it. Most suppliers go with the maxim: take as much advantage as possible. Who cares about the sport or its fans? The situation becomes acute when the inelasticity exists. The demand keeps increasing unrelated to the supply curve (the game of cricket). This means that the only concern the BCCI has regarding the supply part is 'how it can yield maximum money'. The fans are not a concern as they will increase no matter what.

I used 'apparently' in the above paragraph because this is the perceived notion. The truth is slightly different. How can we assess this given the sheer madness of following their cricket team the Indian cricket fan has shown regardless of the treatment meted out to him? Historical precedents attest that sports fans may appear crazy in their absolute devotion to their teams.

However, with the advent of time, eras change and what is passion in one era may be just another golden duck spoilt in another. Indian Hockey had a huge following. It is hockey's bad luck that it existed in an era which meant fan followings could not convert to money for the sport. But the key point is that fans declined. Why?

Poor performances and negligence on the part of authorities can be tolerated only to an extent and not beyond. West Indies Cricket has seen a fall in popularity similarly. But then Indian cricket isn't performing well at all would be the retort. Shifts in interests take time to show in real terms. Already we are seeing lesser number of people watching international cricket games compared to five years ago. As generations change, interests of the specific generations can change. Different economic strata of youth have different sports to follow and heroes to look up to.

Tennis has Sania Mirza. The Chess revolution rolls on, especially in South India. There is a new shooting revolution with a whole set of shooters. There is Golf and Jyoti Randhawa to idolize for some one who can afford golf. The common Indian who isn't very rich can still follow football opposed to cricket. The international football games right from the English Premier League to the Champions League to the other big leagues are broadcast live. Zee Sports has signed a long term contract with the Indian Football Association and is providing tremendous coverage for domestic football games.

If infrastructure and facilities are improved, football can take over India sooner than you can imagine. All it needs is some inspired performances. India is lower than 100 right now in the FIFA rankings. But I am just giving the football example to show that cricket shouldn't feel safe despite the situation it finds itself in right now.

So is the Indian Cricket fan absolutely powerless? Not really. As he is the real shareholder, he enjoys powers which he clearly does not use properly. The Indian Cricket fan should let his voice be heard. Not by shouting player x should be out of the team, player y should be in the team blah blah blah but in a much more meaningful way. Civil Disobedience! Non-Cooperation! Mahatma Gandhi showed the power people can have if united. Making your opinions heard, gathering perspectives from others and gaining momentum for an idea is the easier than ever before. There is the internet to propogate your idea. The media is powerful and will latch on to it.

Are the Indian Cricket fans willing to tolerate the ill treatment they are meted out? Or will they become bolder and boycott Indian Cricket till the BCCI (which is just a money churning machine for whom cricket is just a tool for the money churning process and the Indian fan doesn't even matter) is forced to taken the fans more seriously? Protests in terms of boycott or other means by a small section would not serve the purpose. The shareholders are too many for a small portion to have any impact.

What is needed is a movement so that there is a change in the structure of cricket. The domestic players should get much more money, the people at the top or their backers should be true cricket visionaries and not politicians who are there because of the money cricket brings in our country, cricket should be run by professionals, there should be proper apportionment of wealth for the development of the game. The list is long. It is about time fans let their voice be heard.

However, I really do not know how the millions of shareholders of the game can unify. It is an extremely difficult proposition but it all starts with an idea. Boycott Indian Cricket? It is about time.

Pratyush Khaitan is a young entrepreneur. Off the clock, he is a movie buff and a sports writer. He analyses sports at Sportolysis.
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#1
Aaman
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April 2, 2006
03:08 PM

Interesting and lots of food for thought

#2
Nanda Kishore
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April 2, 2006
11:30 PM

Good post, Pratyush. It is about time, but what choice do Indian cricket fans have? And considering that is the only sport where we are world class (apart from Paes-Bhupathi), I don't think the situation is going to change very soon.

Couple of things where I have a slightly different view. I don't think we can expect parking space to be provided for the public, especially in the Metros, which already have a huge space crunch in the prime areas. Melbourne, for example, has excellent public transport and beefed it up further for the duration of the games, and actually made it difficult to park in the vicinity of the games venues (CWG). But the quality of public transportation meant that everyone was happy.

I'm not sure if BCCI has an obligation to use money generated from cricket for other sports. If you take the stakeholders analogy, then the stakeholders have chosen to invest in cricket. Further, even if the BCCI is hardly likeable, no one can deny that they have worked to make cricket the moneyspinner that it is today. Most other federations are a sorry bunch.

#3
Pratyush
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April 3, 2006
11:24 AM

Glad you found it interesting Aaman.

#4
Pratyush
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April 3, 2006
11:38 AM

Nanda: It is a slow process. At the moment there are very few alternate choices but it maynot remain so forever. Also, does not mean crap has to be tolerated.

Maybe I did not put my point across properly regarding the parking space. At least proper arrangements at places close to the venue can be arranged rather than saying that parking space is being provided when in reality it's in places far off. Also alternate means is the logical way to look at when parking spaces aren't feasible. Poor planning is what I am at. When there are constraints, bring in public transport as you rightly suggested and is donein sporting events.

IMO (as I stated in the piece) money should be an aid for sport and not the reason behind it. This means that a small portion of a richer sport should help develop the poorer cousins in their infant stage (compared to the level they can grow into). If we look from purely a commercial angle, this logic does not hold good as the sport which invests money doesn't get any thing in return. However, if we look at it from the view point of developing a larger sporting base in a country or internationally, this looks a nice path to pursue.

#5
Angshuman
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April 7, 2006
06:02 PM

With the exception of the Indian skipper none of the top guns involved with Indian cricket even expressed remorse at the incident of fan-bashing and anarchy at Faridabad stadium. To draw a parallel, do you expect the owners of a large shopping complex react so if visitors to the complex are treated likewise due to internal mismanagement?
The priorities are blatantly obvious now. Maybe you are right Pratyush - cricket supporters have to find a way to unite and teach these monsters a lesson in the only way they will learn it.
I had once thought aloud on what BCCI could do for the good of Indian cricket (click URL) but possibilities of any organised work happening on that front are remote even with the billion bucks if the people paying them do not threaten to take them away.

#6
Angshuman
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April 7, 2006
06:06 PM

Sorry about the link there. It stands corrected now.

#7
Pratyush
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April 8, 2006
03:22 AM

As you said Angshuman, it is blatantly obvious. Still nothing happens. It is very frustrating.

#8
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02:23 PM

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